Monday, November 11, 2013

Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My"

My oldest and deepest Neil Young association comes from 'mid-80s television ads (for the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters) which featured "I Am a Child." The song was soft and melodic, easy on the ears, perfect for an organization dedicated to nurturing and growing young people. To me, "I Am a Child" evoked a rustic setting - a shack in a clearing in the boonies, a man on the porch with an acoustic guitar playing his heart out because there's nothing else he'd rather be doing.  

Many of the other Neil Young songs I was familiar with at the time ("Heart of Gold," "Sugar Mountain," "Old Man") were in this vein. The classic rock radio staples like "Cinnamon Girl" which were electric guitar-based didn't alter my first impression. I thought of Neil primarily as a country-folk artist until I acquired a cassette tape of "Ragged Glory" in the early '90s. 

"Ragged Glory" is chock full of ballsy guitar rock. The opener, "Country Home," is a seven-minute rocker which features extensive, sprawling jams filled with Les Paul distortion, milky bends, pinch harmonics, and tasty leads which play off the main melody. "Fuckin' Up"--a song we can all relate to--goes six minutes, propelled by an
infectious main theme and colossal waves of guitar noise. "Love and Only Love" runs to ten minutes thanks to numerous jam segues which feature squeals, whelps, and big swells of prehistoric feedback.  

As one would expect, Neil's guitar voice is an extension of Neil the artist:  it isn't pretty, but it is beautiful. He isn't a virtuoso who plays fast, fluid runs or spends ten hours at a stretch in his bedroom mastering obscure modes and scales. Like Neil's eternally unkempt, rugged appearance, his playing is raw, emotional, direct. 

The video below, "Hey Hey, My My" from the "Ragged Glory" tour, captures Neil's six-string spirit in full flower. There's much to love, from the yellow Elvis t-shirt (nothing says rock 'n' roll like Elvis) to his spastic abandon as he lurches around the stage to the excitement of the audience. 

Today, as Neil Young turns 68, I must once again express gratitude for Canada's finest musical export. 

Other "Truth and Beauty" guitar hero essays:

Click here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," a first-hand account of Vaughan's final concert

here for "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar - The Six-String Wizardry of Frank Zappa, Part II"

here for "It was 70 years ago today:  an appreciation of Jimi Hendrix"

                         here for "Link Wray's 'Rumble'"                            

here for Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic)

here for Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa

here for Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock 

here for Great Guitar Solos, #4: Dweezil Zappa Nails "Eruption"

here for Great Guitar Solos, #5:  Alvin Lee

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